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August 2011

Can the Private Sector Play a Helpful Role in Education? It Can, If it Targets Disadvantaged Students

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

The following piece appeared as a guest blog in the UK's Guardian this past week.

Students from Harlem Childrens' Zone with its president, Geoffrey Canada. A good public education system means public spending – but not necessarily public provision.

In OECD countries, more than 20% of public education expenditure goes to private institutions – communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations, trade unions, private companies, small informal providers and individual practitioners – and about 12% is spent on privately-managed institutions.

But does private participation mean higher quality education? Does it bring better exam results? Can it encourage greater equality?

Are Alternative Pathways into Teaching Bad for Students?

Emiliana Vegas's picture

In the vast majority of education systems, there is a well-defined path to become a teacher. In most cases, this path begins early on in an individual’s career choices. At the time of graduation from high school or entrance into higher education, individuals enter initial teacher training programs. When the profession is attractive (based on not just salary but also working conditions and career opportunities), competition into these programs can be very intense, such as in Finland, Korea and Singapore.  In these cases, systems can be selective in who they admit into teaching, and new teachers are among the brightest, best educated, hardest working, and most motivated workers in society.

But the profession is very attractive in only a few countries. In most other nations, the number of teacher applicants does not exceed the number of teacher positions by much, and when it does (as in India), selection processes to assign the teacher positions are seldom set up to choose the very best. As a result, in many countries around the world, the best and the brightest are entering professions other than teaching. This is troubling because a substantial body of research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important school-based predictor of student learning. Indeed, several consecutive years of outstanding teaching can even offset the learning gaps between advantaged (socio-economically, racially or ethnically, by gender) and disadvantaged students. 

Getting to Know Our Schools Better – From Atlanta to Bali

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

There is certainly one way to really get to know our school systems, and fast – through a scandal. A recent article in The Economist reports on a case in Atlanta, USA, where it was found that teachers had engaged in wide-spread cheating since at least 2001, all to improve student test scores.

Some teachers gave pupils answers. Some filled in answers themselves. Some pointed to answers while standing over pupils’ desks. Others let low-scoring children sit near—and copy from—higher-scoring ones. One group of teachers had a test-changing party over the weekend.
(Low Marks All Round, The Economist, July 14th 2011.)

My team and I presented a better, albeit less dramatic way to get to know our schools at a conference in Bali this summer. The System Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results (SABER) program is a flagship initiative of the World Bank’s new Education Strategy 2020. SABER enables policy makers to look inside the black box of their education systems, and better understand the different policy domains that make up the whole.